Learning to manage and decrease stress isn’t an innate skill—it’s a learned one, and something all parents should prioritize. However, just like everything you want to teach your kids, modeling good behavior is one of the most effective ways to ensure this habit sticks. Do as I do, not as I say, is a mantra that many parents try to embrace. If you want to make stress relief a part of your kids’ lives, it starts with you.
Fortunately, modeling good behavior and talking openly about stress will help you, too. You likely already have some unhealthy coping mechanisms, and your kids have already picked up on that. Maybe it’s stress eating, binging television, or abusing alcohol. It’s not too late to reverse that damage. Here are a few ways to help your children learn to manage stress, includin theg many ways you can do so together:
- Choose a healthy activity to do together. Maybe it’s a dance class, yoga, or outdoor hiking club. Movement and increasing the heart rate releases endorphins and instantly decreases stress. You already know that you have a clearer mind when you raise your heart rate with an activity you love. As schools are cutting PE classes and reducing recess time, it’s up to parents to prioritize daily movement.
- Make talk therapy part of family time. Talk therapy doesn’t necessarily have to include a therapist (although it can). Prioritizing talking with children openly and honestly, and without the distraction of screens, can be a challenge well worth the effort. Whether it’s during dinner time, on the car ride to school, or any other time that works for you, make it a daily habit. Children will open up more if parents do the same. Practice toeing the line between transparency and keeping that parent-child line intact.
- Schedule family therapy sessions. mental health is just as important as physical health. You wouldn’t skip taking your child to the doctor or dentist, so why skimp on mental health? It might take some trial and error to find a child and family therapist that works for your family and child, but it’s worth the effort. You may be recommended to try family group counseling or perhaps your child would benefit from one-on-one sessions (or both!). Having an unbiased, trusted, third-party professional to talk to can make a world of difference in stress management.
- Teach your children how to say no. Again, this is a behavior that should be modeled. It’s tempting to pack your child’s schedule with activities, especially if they’re free or seem like a great way to increase their odds of success. Kids pick up on parents desires and may say they want to do a certain activity even if they don’t. Make sure rest, fun, and play are “scheduled” into your child’s calendar. Turning down some invitations or dropping a few hobbies or classes may be in their best interest.
- Practice reasonable benchmarks for success. Do you demand that your child get a certain grade or achieve a certain level of success in a sport or hobby? It’s easy to mix up unrealistic demands with what parents perceive as encouragement. Especially with younger children, constantly striving towards these perceived demands can be highly stressful. Instead of using words like “you should” or “you can,” appreciate the attempts your child has already made. For instance, “I liked it when you did…” can be much more effective and less stressful.
Stress is a part of everyone’s life, but parents have the power to reduce some of it for their children. Since stress is linked to a variety of conditions and diseases, it’s paramount to start teaching and modeling stress reduction techniques at a young age.